Forten, James, Sr.

James Forten, Sr. (1766-1842)

Businessman, sail maker, community leader, and abolitionist

Former Home Address:  336 Lombard Street

(See place marker no. 12 on map)

James Forten was born free and served as a gunpowder boy during the American Revolution under Stephen Decatur, U.S. Naval Commander. He later established a very successful business manufacturing sails and invented an apparatus for managing sails. The business, located at 95 Wharf Street in Philadelphia, employed both black and white craftsmen. Through his success as a sailmaker, Forten was estimated to have amassed a fortune exceeding $100,000, an enormous sum for any man to accumulate in the 19th century.

He was a key African-American abolitionist and was active in politics. Forten was one of the founders of the Free African Society in 1787 and was instrumental in the founding of the American Reform Society  When British troops threatened the security of Philadelphia during the War of 1812, Forten, The Reverend Richard Allen, and The Reverend Absalom Jones organized 2,000 black men to erect defenses at Gray's Ferry along the Schuylkill River, at the southern edge of the city The three men joined forces again to solicit many of the 1,700 black subscribers for William Lloyd Garrison's antislavery newspaper, The Liberator.  Forten played an integral role in the organization of the first Negro Convention in Philadelphia in 1830 and acted as chairman.

(From: Blockson, Charles L. Philadelphia's Guide: African-American State Historical Markers. Philadelphia: Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection / William Penn Foundation, 1992.)